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Life Lessons from the Dying

February 9, 2013 , , ,

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By Tom  Muha, Hometown Annapolis

Have you ever wondered what’s most important to people at the end of their lives? That knowledge could have a powerful impact on your life. In a beautifully written book, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying,” Bronnie Ware describes how her life was profoundly transformed by the lessons she learned while providing care to the terminally ill. There is much to learn from the life stories of the dearly departed.

Grace provides the illustration for Regret No. 1: I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. While caring for Grace, Ware repeatedly heard her lament that the dreams she had of living a life independent of her husband were never going to happen. “Why didn’t I just do what I wanted? Why did I let him rule me? Why wasn’t I strong?”

John was another patient with whom Ware cared for during his final months of life. He exemplified another common regret: I wish I didn’t work so hard. John’s wife had passed a year earlier, with her husband’s promise that he’d retire so they could travel being unfulfilled. “If I can leave any good in this world besides my family, I leave these words. Don’t work too hard. Try to maintain balance. Don’t make work your whole life.”

Regret No. 3 is that “I wish I’d have the courage to express my feelings.” Like John, Jozef also wished he hadn’t worked so hard. “I loved my work, I really loved it. That’s why I worked so hard, that and to provide for my family and their family. So I worked and worked and kept the family at a distance. They didn’t deserve to be so alone. Now I wish they really knew me.”

Living in a nursing home, Doris exemplified Regret No. 4: I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. “I have been dying of loneliness in here, sweetheart,” Doris told Ware the first time the two met. “I had heard it was possible and it is. Loneliness can surely kill you. I get so starved for human touch at times.” Together, the two of them tracked down Doris’s friends so they could reconnect one last time. Better late than never.

Finally, Regret No. 5: I wish I had let myself be happier. The client Ware chose to illustrate to become this regret was a woman who had been ahead of her time, a corporate executive named Rosemary. “What a miserable person I have been. I just didn’t think I deserved to be happy. But I do. I know that now. It’s really our own choice, isn’t it? We can stop ourselves from being happy because we think we don’t deserve it, or because we allow opinions of others to become part of who we are. But itis not who we are, is it? We can be whoever we allow ourselves to be. My God, why didn’t I work this out sooner? What a waste!”

Reflecting on lessons she learned from her decades of caring for the dying, Ware offers exquisite advice to those of us who still have the chance to get it right. “It takes fortitude to create big changes. The longer you stay in the wrong environment and remain its product though, the longer you deny yourself the opportunity to know true happiness and satisfaction. Life is too short to just watch it go by, just because of fear that can be conquered if faced.”

In discussing how to re-create one’s life, Ware writes “It is a delicate process of determination, bravery and at times, of letting go. It is having the courage to stop unhealthy relationships in their tracks and say ‘Enough.’ It is treating yourself with respect and kindness, both of which you deserve. Mostly though, to break free of your own trappings, it is about becoming an observer of your own thoughts and habits. This awareness helps solutions become apparent.”

Rather than being a book that leaves the reader despondent, Ware has crafted a work that inspires. “Life is your own, not someone else’s. If you are not finding some element of happiness in what you have created and are doing nothing to improve on it, then the gift of every new day is wasted. A tiny step or a small decision are great starting points, those and taking responsibility for your own happiness.”

If you’re struggling in life, I heartily recommend that you read this book – before it’s too late.

Dr. Tom Muha is a psychologist practicing in Annapolis. Previous articles can be found To contact him call 443-454-7274 or send email



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